Rebecca Swansbury, Schools Officer (Christian Character), Diocese of Canterbury
Religious Education leadership found me!
It was the end of a long summer term. I was teaching in a Church of England primary school and the headteacher at the time asked me if I would like to lead RE. I said yes. then she added ‘Oh, by the way we have our SIAMS inspection just after the summer holidays!’
So, there I was, relatively new in the school and leading a new subject with an inspection looming and no time or support to get things into place. I therefore had to spend time researching the subject and what it meant to lead RE in a Church of England School.
RE:ONLINE was the first website I found, and it offered me the support I needed as a fledgling RE leader. The early days were a challenge, especially as we limped through our SIAMS inspection, but as things were far from the expected standard, the only way was up! This resulted in me having to transform the curriculum, unpick assessment strategies, work with the SLT on teaching and learning, all of which opened my eyes to leading a subject effectively.
This eight-year training ground enabled me to tweak and change things, whilst developing my own leadership style and capacity. The school I worked in joined an academy, so I was asked to share my learning and work on developing RE with the other schools in the MAT. This opportunity really challenged me, as I suddenly found myself delivering training and support to groups of teachers from different contexts and teams that were not familiar to me. I quickly learnt to develop my classroom practice to engage and deliver training to groups adults rather than children. All of the experience proved invaluable as I moved into an advisory role.
Through this time, I was really grateful to the headteachers I worked under, who always pushed me to grow and develop and explore the wider RE community by releasing me to attend training and visit other schools. If it wasn’t for their support and constant belief in me, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
It was following our next SIAMS inspection, that the Assistant Director for Education for the Diocese approached me to be come a Diocesan Specialist Teacher for RE. This involved me leading training for teachers across the Diocese on some of the resources and approaches I had written and trialled in my own school and MAT. This role snowballed and eventually I was seconded one day a week to the Diocese to train all the 103 Diocese schools in the resource Understanding Christianity. This allowed me to share my passion for high quality and creative RE with others across the Diocese.
A change of roles at the Diocese created an opening for a full time Schools Officer. The advertised role was vast, but one part of this role was to lead on RE across the Diocese. I took a leap of faith, applied for the role and the rest is history!
Along this journey, I have had the privilege of working with and alongside other RE advisors and learn from the wider RE community, many of whom took me under their wings as I stepped up from a senior teacher to an RE advisor looking after 103 schools. Without their support and expertise, I would have been lost.
When I think back to my early days as the RE leader, I did feel a little isolated and rudderless as I didn’t know where to go for support and help or what was expected of me as a leader. I see my role, as an advisor, to provide that rudder for RE leaders of all levels of expertise to enable them to flourish in their role. Through the training, network groups and regular emails I offer, I try to keep them connected to each other and the wider RE world and grow leaders in each of my schools to ensure every pupil has access to high quality and effective RE.
Rebecca Swansbury currently works for the Diocese of Canterbury, as the Schools Officer (Christian Character). Responsible for the RE, collective worship, SIAMS inspections, training and anything else that falls under the umbrella of Christian character.